What Is the Function of The Pancreas in The Body?

Reviewed on 10/16/2020

What Is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ in the abdominal cavity that produces digestive enzymes.
The pancreas is an organ in the abdominal cavity that produces digestive enzymes.

The pancreas is an organ located in the upper left part of the abdomen, behind the stomach. It is about six to ten inches long, shaped like a pear, with the right side of the organ (the head) being the widest part, which tapers to the left side (the tail). The pancreas is a spongy organ that plays a key role in converting the food you eat into fuel for the cells of the body.

What Is the Function of The Pancreas in The Body?

The pancreas produces enzymes and hormones to help digest the foods we eat.

The pancreas is comprised of two types of glands:

  • Exocrine, which secretes digestive enzymes
    • About 95% of the pancreas consists of exocrine tissue 
    • The enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin help digest proteins 
    • Amylase helps digest carbohydrates
    • Lipase helps break down fats
    • These enzymes travel down the pancreatic duct into the bile duct and are activated when they enter the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine)
    • Exocrine tissue also secretes a bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid in the duodenum
  • Endocrine, which secretes hormones and helps regulate blood sugar
    • Endocrine cells are called islets of Langerhans, which are clusters of cells that look like grapes and produce hormones that regulate blood sugar and regulate pancreatic secretions
    • Two of the main pancreatic hormones are insulin and glucagon
      • Insulin acts to lower blood sugar
        • This allows the body's cells to use glucose for energy
        • It also works with the liver to store glucose and produce fatty acids
      • Glucagon acts to raise blood sugar
        • The combination of glucagon and insulin helps maintain appropriate blood sugar levels
    • Somatostatin is another hormone released by the pancreas which prevents the release of insulin and glucagon
    • Maintaining blood sugar levels is vital to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys

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Reviewed on 10/16/2020
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